tue 21/05/2019

Rupert Murdoch: Battle with Britain/United States of Television: America in Primetime, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Rupert Murdoch: Battle with Britain/United States of Television: America in Primetime, BBC Two

Rupert Murdoch: Battle with Britain/United States of Television: America in Primetime, BBC Two

Rupert Murdoch dissected, but in a good way. Plus television on television

Rupert Murdoch - sympathy for the Devil?

"For youth, for change and always for the people" was the slogan with which Rupert Murdoch relaunched The Sun in 1969, having bought it from its previous owners IPC for a mere £800,000. Murdoch, the Aussie iconoclast who kept a bust of Lenin in his rooms at Oxford university in the early Fifties and claimed to be an ardent socialist, decreed that his new tabloid would be free from party political affiliations and would refuse to kow-tow to the British establishment, which he instinctively loathed. His message resonated with a broad swathe of the British public, and within 100 days the paper's circulation had doubled from its starting point of 700,000.

Murdoch the bold, brash revolutionary with an unerring instinct for what readers wanted was the theme of Steve Hewlett's film. As former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie put it, working for Murdoch felt as if "there was a higher being somewhere that could create success". Given that the programme arrives amid the still-smouldering aftermath of Leveson, which cast Murdoch as a hybrid of Hitler and Goebbels and threatened us with media regulation by foppish actor, it was astoundingly even-handed. Complimentary, even. From the BBC! If Polly Toynbee had popped up and confessed that she had always secretly yearned to be Margaret Thatcher, it couldn't have been more surprising.

Being a buddy - or "soulmate", as Andrew Neil put it - of Thatcher will always be another line of nails in Murdoch's coffin for the Left, though Murdoch claimed he was never a Tory while Thatcher herself scared the life out of most Conservatives. They shared an aversion to big government and high taxes, and Rupert's battle with the print unions at Wapping (the presses run, pictured right) paralleled Thatcher's war with Arthur Scargill and the NUM. The bumbling old duffer who turned up at Leveson and declared himself "humbled" by the storm of rage and contempt whistling around his ears scarcely resembled the fearless and remorseless character captured here in copious archive clips, but Hewlett's contention was that he brought transformative change to Britain. For better or worse.

America in Primetime (BBC Two, Saturday) is a bit of an oddity, but a highly watchable one. It first appeared on PBS in the States in 2011, but is being shown here in a Beebified version in which Alan Yentob, wearing a shirt in radioactive lemon, drops in occasionally to deliver a link to camera.

Mostly it's a parade of the most influential and articulate people in American television, analysing the medium, the message and what it says about America and its history. Last week's theme was the father-figure in US TV, from the "darling, I'm home!" era of Father Knows Best or the Dick Van Dyke Show to Tony Soprano and Don Draper. This week it was "The Misfit", which meant a picaresque ramble through The Beverly Hillbillies and The Addams Family to Taxi, Seinfeld, Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, Beavis and Butthead and True Blood (among many more).

Whether the theme held much water was moot, but there were lots of great yarns. It was a hoot to see John Astin, who played paterfamilias Gomez Addams, talking about how The Addams Family was a revolt against Fifties comformity, while Jason Alexander (from Seinfeld) reflected on the way comedy always needs a target, be it short, bald, fat or ethnic, and Ron Howard talked a lot more sense than he ever puts in his movies. The clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David (pictured above left) holds a loud, imaginary phone conversation with himself in a restaurant, to get back at the guy with a Bluetooth earpiece on the next table, epitomised the "show, don't tell" ethos. Intelligent talk about television... only in America?

Murdoch claimed he was never a Tory while Thatcher scared the life out of most Conservatives

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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